In 1955, when I was gaining experience as a coin dealer, one of my
main suppliers was William L. Pukall, an old-time dealer who conducted
a mail-order business in Union City, N.J. From him I bought many
hundreds of Proof Indian cents from the 1880s onward and hundreds of
Matte Proof Lincoln cents 1909 to 1916, still in their original
Mint-issue thin tissue paper. Every one of them was toned a rich brown
color with hints of blue. He had been dealing since the 1910s and now
was in the sunset of his career.
We talked on the phone one day, and he asked me if I would like to
buy some Hard Times tokens. I had read through Lyman H. Low’s 1900
book, Hard Times Tokens, but had never owned any. He sent me a
selection of a couple dozen different, mostly priced at just a few
dollars each. I was bitten by the bug, and ever since then I have
enjoyed studying them. Today I have a modest collection of varieties
that I find to be interesting. Unlike the “completion” goal in the
American federal series, no collection of early tokens has ever had everything.
Low defined the Hard Times era as 1832 to 1844. In reality, the
economic hard times began in the spring of 1837 and ended in the
spring of 1843. However, Low wanted to include the tokens issued for
President Andrew Jackson’s second campaign in 1832, the “glorious Whig
victory” of 1834, and other events memorialized on such pieces. Today,
several hundred different varieties are cataloged within the series.
Each token has a story to tell.
Such tokens have two main themes: political subjects, in
particular the controversial Andrew Jackson and his successor Martin
Van Buren, and advertisements of merchants. Democrats Jackson and Van
Buren were satirized unmercifully. Jackson vetoed the charter renewal
of the Bank of the United States, set to expire in 1836. Federal funds
were moved to state banks, and then, too slowly as the illustrated
token shows, to sub-treasuries. Van Buren said, “I follow in the steps
of my illustrious predecessor,” this being Jackson, depicted as a jackass.
For Whitman Publishing LLC, I am in the midst of creating A
Guide Book of Hard Times Tokens: Political Tokens and Store Cards
1832-1844. I am tapping other talent in the series — such as
Robert Schuman, Steve Hayden and others who enjoy research. I will be
working on this on and off during the next year. If you have any
unpublished advertisements or other items to share, contact me. In the
meantime, enjoy the holidays.
Q. David Bowers is chairman emeritus of Stack’s Bowers Galleries
and numismatic director of Whitman Publishing LLC. He can be reached
at his private email, firstname.lastname@example.org,
or at Q. David Bowers LLC, Box 1804, Wolfeboro, NH 03894.